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SDDC adoption on a 'slow roll'

The value of SDDC in the enterprise is becoming better understood, but widespread uptake is rare.

It has been nearly three years since SDDC entered the IT lexicon but it will likely be 2020 before it's mainstream.

The idea of a software-defined data center (SDDC) still lacks some awareness, according to Scott Dennehy, senior analyst at Technology Business Research (TBR) in Hampton, N.H. IT pros likely understand the technical benefits but may be trying to bridge the divide in understanding the idea on paper versus deployment.

While a full SDDC has been slow to arrive, many enterprises have the parts in place.

SDDC "is in the early stages of maturity and will change significantly over the next five years," according to a September 2014 report from Gartner. And a brief by Forrester Research calls SDDC "an evolving architectural and operational philosophy, not a product that you can buy that has a demonstrated ROI."

"It is a very new model, especially on the [software-defined networking] side," Dennehy said. "Customers are being extra careful about how they go down this road." In addition to the changes that SDDC brings to hardware and software, it also will usher in changes to IT staff.

Tasks previously performed by highly skilled employees can be performed by software, according to Forrester's brief, "The Software-Defined Data Center Is Still A Work In Progress" by Richard Fichera.

Data center managers are moving carefully to understand exactly what they will get with an SDDC. Managers are making sure they understand the true cost and also know they will get the technical and business outcomes they desire.

'Customers are being extra careful about how they go down this road.'
Scott DennehyTechnology Business Research

So far, software-defined networking (SDN) has taken hold more in certain enterprise settings than in others, according to analysts.

"The adoption of SDN is really concentrated in telecom and the very big data centers such as Google, Amazon and Facebook," Dennehy said.

As for software-defined storage, it's not "plug and play" said Stanley Stevens, also a senior analyst at TBR. "There's a tremendous amount of back-end planning that needs to go into this."

"I don't think it is here today," Stevens said. "All of this is a slow roll."

That progress will be brought about by the continually increasing cost to deploy and maintain traditional storage, according to TBR's recent report on data center trends.

Some IT professionals may also see everything slapped with the "software-defined" tag, whether it applies or not, because it is a hot term, Dennehy said. For analysts at TBR, software-defined means having a data center with a software-defined management layer that can heterogeneously control hardware without a dependency on proprietary hardware.

The definition -- or lack of a clear definition across the board -- may be holding back SDDC.

"If it means different things, that is going to hamper people making the case," Stevens said.

For SDN, the barrier to get into networking has been lowered for vendors, Dennehy said, noting vendors such as Big Switch Networks and Cumulus Networks have made inroads "because it is a software play; you don't have to have the hardware like you used to."

Cisco, HP, Juniper Networks and Brocade Communications Systems are trying to protect their legacy hardware base, while companies such as VMware are using their virtualization expertise to extend into the networking domain with NSX.

Some enterprises simply stick with legacy providers such as Cisco because the IT staff understands the hardware and it does not require training on new products.

Still, the shift in focus from hardware to software could spell doom for some hardware-centric vendors, which could "face the harsh reality of software-defined IT," according to a recent data center trends report by TBR.

Most new networking installs in small enterprises will be part of a SDDC in coming years, Dennehy said.

By the end of 2015, SDDC will accelerate and begin to be deployed with vendor's most loyal customers, he said.

Gartner's report suggests that SDDC be implemented "in an incrementally new environment (where new services are created or existing services are on-boarded and/or extended) because it is easier and more cost effective to create new services using SDDC APIs and policies with orchestration than it is to retrofit existing services."

For some enterprises, SDDC doesn't make sense.

"There's plenty of enterprises with a lack of awareness," Dennehy said.

For others, it may be far too costly, if they would need to rip out existing hardware and put in commodity hardware. Or the enterprise needs to know how it will help the bottom line.

"For SDDC to really take off, the business case has to be made," Dennehy said.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him @RBGatesTT.  

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